Ellen Stevens, Sally Nathenson-Mejia and Deanna Sands are pictured at the CU Denver 25-year faculty celebration

Back when traffic streamed across the Auraria Campus and state money flowed more readily into higher education, nine faculty members joined the School of Education and Human Development in 1987.

Several of those 1987 hires who remain at the University of Colorado Denver recently were among those feted at the university’s 25-year recognition celebration at the home of Chancellor Don Elliman. Between the two campuses, 27 faculty members received recognition this year for 25 years of service.

Three of the honorees from the education school — Sally Nathenson-Mejia, associate professor; Deanna Sands, associate dean; and Ellen Stevens, associate professor — sat down with Today to reflect on their tight knit community of educators and the changes they’ve seen at the university in 25 years.

“We grew up together,” said Sands, whose other just-hired colleagues in the education school in 1987 were Brent Wilson, Lynn Taylor, Scott Grabinger, Nancy Commins, Harriet Boone and Elizabeth Kozleski. “…There was money in the ’80s. The campus was growing.”

The faculty members initially shared office spaces in the Dravo Building. They remembered pushing audio-visual carts to classrooms around campus, typically traversing the busy Lawrence or Larimer streets that, back then, carried vehicle traffic across campus.

Two of the nine who started that year have moved on to other institutions, one has retired, one passed away and another — Commins — will return to CU Denver this fall as a clinical faculty member in the education school.

The colleagues have stayed fairly close through the years. “We don’t all keep in touch with everyone, but we all keep in touch with each other in some way,” Nathenson-Mejia said. “The relationships are there in some way.”

Change has been a constant at the university, the colleagues said, especially in technology, the consolidation of the Downtown Campus and the Anschutz Medical Campus, and the competitive environment of higher education.

Stevens, who will retire this summer and move to Florida, remembered how, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, School of Education faculty would travel to the Western Slope and Colorado Springs to teach graduate courses. Online courses weren’t a possibility back then, said Stevens, who is the founder and director of the university’s Center for Faculty Development.

“That’s why technology has made such a difference,” Stevens said. “Nobody has to drive (to teach remotely). That’s changed dramatically.”

It wasn’t until about five years ago that the School of Education and Human Development began to have ties to undergraduate students. Earning a teacher’s license through CU Denver can now be done in conjunction with bachelor degree programs in other disciplines. The education school has had to adjust to policy makers’ decisions to permit alternative licensing and to end the practice of granting higher starting salaries for teachers with master’s degrees.

Also, “the competition that has proliferated in the last decade has changed the landscape of this campus and this school in particular,” Sands said. “That’s a huge shift … We can’t do our job by just teaching anymore.”

The community engagement by faculty in the education school, like other disciplines across the university, has increased significantly.

“This has always been an extremely active faculty as far as outreach, and now we have to figure out how to do it in a different way,” Nathenson-Mejia said.

Nathenson-Mejia, Sands and Stevens said the quality of the people and the constant striving for excellence amid changing conditions has kept them at CU Denver for a quarter century.

“It’s satisfying work and good people,” Nathenson-Mejia said.

“There’s no time to get stagnant,” Sands added. “No moss grows under anyone’s feet in this organization. It’s never boring. There’s always something new and exciting going on.”

The programming has always been on the cutting edge, Sands said, adding that she would rank the School of Education’s programs as tops in the state and region and, in some cases, the nation.

Stevens’ pioneering Center for Faculty Development, the colleagues said, is a case in point of the school’s willingness to push the boundaries. “It is a vital resource on this campus,” Sands said. “I think it points to everything else about the School of Education.”

Also close to the hearts of the veteran faculty members is the unique blend of hard-working students on the campus.

“Most of our students really want to be here and they want to learn what they’re learning,” Nathenson-Mejia said. “So we’ve been very lucky.”

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